Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Things Done

People make fun of me a lot for my stack of index cards. They come out of my pocket at every meeting and you can see me walking through the halls of the campus sorting them, reading them and writing them. You can make fun of me all you want, they keep me from going crazy. The cards are one part of a system that is often referred to as GTD or "Getting Things Done." Not everyone who uses the system uses cards or uses them the same way but they represent an integral part of the system.

I post this now because I am finally getting around to reviewing Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. This may seem a strange book for a discipleship pastor to read and it may seem even stranger for this to appear on a blog about discipleship. However, productivity is an important part of my life as a pastor for two reasons. First of all, it is a stewardship issue. God has given me time and talents and I am responsible for them. Being productive allows me to utilize my time well and maintain boundaries that allow me to also spend time with my family, time in prayer, and time being rejuvenated. Second of all, a systematic approach to productivity allows me to make better decisions about what gets done. Realistically as a pastor, I could just sit in my office and let work come to me. That could keep me busy about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But would that be the work God is calling me to do? Let me be clear, Getting Things Done is not a spiritual book. However, if you consider your time and talents gifts from God and want to treat them in a way that honors God, a little organization can be a very spiritual thing.

In the first chapter of the book, "A New Practice for a New Reality," Allen sets down the background for his system, the idea that work has changed. For many people, "in the last half of the twentieth century, what constituted 'work' in the industrialized world has transformed from assembly-line, make and move-it kinds of activity to what Peter Drucker has so aptly termed 'knowledge work.'" (p. 5) The problem is that most of us were never trained in how to function in this kind work world where our work no longer has clear boundaries and "there are no edges to most of our projects." (p. 5) For many of us, pastors included, our work is not clearly defined and we never feel like we have the time or resources to get it done. A lot of us have "project manager" buried somewhere in our job description. We are given a general idea of the work before us but often have trouble clearly defining our goals. Once we do, it can be difficult to break them into the appropriate steps. This causes us to fall behind or invest a ton of time trying to reach a destination we haven't defined.

David Allen gets at this problem in a way that works for me. He has developed a system to help get all of the stuff of our work organized in such a way that it can be handled. One of the biggest hindrances to knowledge work it that our brains are crammed with all these things that we are working on or that we need to remember or that we need to get done. Allen's system gets all of those things are out of our heads and into writing so that our brains are free to think. The system also takes unmanageable projects and makes them manageable by helping us to see the next steps. Getting Things Done has a nice bit of theory but it really gets down to business and tells us exactly how to do this. And you can use the system without a fancy day planner or Palm Pilot. Mine works with file folders, index cards and a calendar.

I am not going to write much more about the book because this is a discipleship blog, except to say a few things. First, this has really helped me. I have tried numerous productivity and organizational methods over the years and they have not stuck. I started this system before I even read the book. The book just helped me clarify and simplify my system. So I have been with the system pretty much since I came to University and it has been amazing. It may help you too. I meet so many people who are overwhelmed. Some of this comes from not being able to get a handle on all the things we have to do. Once we get a handle on them, we make better decisions about what we do with the gift of time that God gives us and we usually find we have more time for the things God is calling us to.

And you can keep making fun of my index cards. I am used to it.


blog comments powered by Disqus